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Student Research Success - College and Career Readiness: Research Basics

The following guide is based on the ACRL and AASL Standards for Information Literacy and was created to prepare students for college and career readiness as defined:

An Effective Search Process


    • Become familiar with your library and the resources available to you
    • Set up a system to organize the materials you find, the citations you gather
    • Ask for help from librarians to make it easy for you to get started
    • Estimate the length of time you will devote to research

Fall In Love with Your Topic to help you form your research question

    • Become familiar with people, ideas, resources related to research topic
    • Look through reference books, Google Books
    • Ask your professor for recommended resources

Create an Effective Search

    • Brainstorm keywords and subject terms
    • Use Boolean operators, alternative endings
    • Use limits in your search query
    • Find sources in articles and in books

Plan of Action

Brainstorm possible keywords. Learn about your topic and find other keywords by conducting pre-research. Once you identify keywords to start off your search, your goal should be to find one good article that will lead you to other keywords, subject headings and references. If you find a term and do not know what it means, learn what it means before you use it in another search.

Search queries can be solely keyword searching or a combination of subject and keyword searching. Your goal is to track down a few good articles from scholarly peer-reviewed journals and look at the keywords and subject terms associated with them. Start with a general search and then keep on refining your search with more targeted keywords and subject terms. Start your search very broad and make subsequent searches more targeted based on the results you get with each search.

Never pay for articles. Your tuition pays for access to the databases and the use of interlibrary loan – any librarian can help you locate the articles you need.

Sometimes it helps your search to have your research question defined. Other times the search will inform and help you develop your research question.


Evaluating Your Results

    • Use criteria like:

      ·         Who is the author or producer of the content?

      ·         Is the information on the webpage current?

      ·         What is the purpose of the website? Who is the audience?

      ·         Is the information accurate? Is the information taken from another source?

      ·         Is the webpage easy to navigate? Do all the links work?

    • Know the difference between scholarly and popular articles

 Cite Sources and using resources ethically

    • Become familiar with the citation style your professor is requiring for the assignment
    • Avoid plagarizing


    • Save your references in a citation management system like (RefWorks)

How to tell the difference between scholarly journals & popular magazines?

You will be required to search for scholarly, peer reviewed journals. Scholarly journals are published by a professional society or association. In order for articles to be included in some scholarly journals, they must be reviewed and accepted by an editorial board. These journals are known as juried, refereed or peer reviewed journals. Popular, news, or opinion magazines provide an “average person’s view of an issue”. These magazines do not report results of research projects, have a peer review process or include annotated bibliographies.

What are primary and secondary resources of research?

Primary sources report the results of original studies and represent the latest information on a topic. Secondary sources can be reviews of several primary sources in a particular research area and are not meant to provide the reader with the same detail as in primary sources. Examples of primary sources: journal articles, dissertations. Secondary sources: review articles (critique several studies, often “review” in the title), chapters in books, handbooks (books about general areas of a specific subject) and annual reviews (review research for the past year only).

What is the difference between keywords and index terms?

Keywords are taken from the article and represent the natural language used by the author. Authors or journal editors may provide the keywords. Subject terms are controlled vocabulary terms. An example of a set of controlled vocabulary is from the National Library of Medicine - Medical Subject Headings (MESH).

Use Boolean operators and truncation

Boolean operators: (AND, OR, NOT) combine search terms to narrow or broaden results

Wildcard: (# or ?) Replaces a character, for example, “ne#t” or “ne?t” finds neat, nest, or next by will not find net.

Truncation: (*) Replaces any number of characters and will find all forms of a word root, for example “therap*” finds therapy, therapies, therapist, therapists, therapeutic, etc.


Subject Librarian

Hedda Monaghan's picture
Hedda Monaghan
Henry Whittemore Library
(508) 626-4664

Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate

How can you determine whether your article is good enough (accurate, reputable) to include in your paper? Here are some ways to evaluate the journal article.


1.       In the results of your database and/or Google Scholar search, look for “Cited by”. Do other authors cite the references in reputable sources?

2.       In the articles or books, do the author cite established sources? Do you recognize the author of the articles or books? Ask your professor if he/she is aware of the authors and their work.

3.       Show what you found to your professor for his/her approval. Discuss with other students the sources your have found.

4.       Read the research and ask yourself – do the authors make the case why the arguement is valid? For research studies, do the studies make a contribution and fill a research void?